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Paul Kay departs the planet

Mar 01, 2009 Paul Kay departs the planet

If I try to see death as an artificial marker in the continuum of life, why do I blog on occasion about those who depart their bodies, and thus this planet? One reason is that this transition is significant to those who remain on the planet. Another reason is to pay honor to them in case they are aware of the honor being paid, and for the benefit of their surviving loved ones.

I first met the late trial lawyer Paul E. Kaye in the early 1990’s, when I was active with District of Columbia criminal defense lawyer activities, in anticipation of my ultimate return to private practice from public defender practice. He was among those I asked about how they arrived at the path of being their own boss in the practice of criminal defense. Paul seemed sure in his decision to become his own boss, which is the kind of positive energy I sought on the path to becoming my own boss ten years ago.

Paul had numerous courtroom successes, and would cross-examine cops testifying about the junk-science field sobriety tests for drunk driving cases by acting out the tests with his large frame, underlining how silly it is to expect that even a sober person — nervous from an accusatory police encounter —  would not flub on them.

I do not write this blog entry for the purpose of mentioning that Paul was blind, which resulted from retinitis pigmentosa. On the other hand, he seemed to be a living example of transcending handicaps and other impediments on the road to success. The Washington Post obituary reports that according to Paul’s sister, he "considered blindness more of a nuisance than a handicap."  In at least two instances, Paul took action when others did not see it that way. In the early 1990’s, Paul successfully pushed to prohibit the District of Columbia Superior Court from automatically barring blind people from juries. On another occasion, he successfully sued a restaurant that would not admit his assistant Dog Smokey.

Paul’s dog Smokey was more important to him than mere hired "help." After Smokey’s retirement, Paul told me of at least one visit with him several states away with Smokey’s then new caretaking humans.

Paul passed away on January 7, 2009. I missed the timely notice in the local criminal lawyers’ listserv (entitled merely "Paul Kay" which made me think someone was seeking his contact information or writing of one of his successes), and the later notice in the Washington Post. However, I finally caught the news today in a listserv posting about his memorial service to be held in May.

Thanks, Paul, for you and for your inspiration. Jon Katz

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